In 1892, Thomas Edison patented the motion picture camera. The motion picture camera was invented by William Kennedy Dickson, who was working for Edison.
Initial motion pictures were silent one-reel short films. They were shown by traveling shows. These shows brought the screen, projector and an accomplished pianist. They set up as tent-shows and in local theaters which normally presented live plays and in ballrooms.
It wasn’t till about 1910 to 1912, that multiple-reel “feature” films began being produced. It was also at this time that local motion picture theaters became the norm instead of the “road shows.”
The earliest films used “title cards” or “intertitles” to convey the movie’s dialogue and to provide additional information. There would be a few seconds of film, then the “title card” would convey what the actors had been saying, and then back to the film’s action. Eventually, the dialogue was shown as “subtitles” or “captioning” on the film.
The only sound component of silent films was a musical score, which was written to correspond to the action on the screen. Initially, this score was for a piano or organ but more elaborate scores were written for complete orchestras. The movie “Robin Hood” with Douglas Fairbanks, which was released in 1922, had a score for a full orchestra. Small theaters like Almont’s just employed a pianist.
In the early to mid-1920s, motion picture studios began supplying a record with the musical sound track. The sound track and the film needed to be synchronized, so originally they only contained the musical soundtrack.
As the technology used to synchronize the record and film projector improved, the record contained the actors’ dialogues, thus creating the first “talkies.” If you have ever watched the movie “Walking in the Rain” you have seen what can happen when the soundtrack and film are not properly synchronized. This was quickly replaced by recording the sound directly on the film. True talking pictures were born in 1927 with the release of the “Jazz Singer.”
In the early 1900s, William Hammond opened the first motion picture theater in Almont. It was located at 105 S. Main Street, now the southern half of Fountain Park. They were initially showing the silent one-reel short films.
By World War I, the theater was showing feature or multi-reel films. During the summer months of 1917 and 1918, the theater was moved outside. A framed sheet was hung from the east side of the Town Hall. Seating was created by placing 2” x 6” planks on sunken posts and with backs made of sawmill scraps that were still bark-covered. On Saturday night these movies were free. On several occasions, the framed sheet was hung on one of the store fronts on Main Street.
Hildamae Waltz remembered attending these showings with her mother, Edith Foe Waltz. Hildamae could not yet read so her mother read the subtitles to her.
In the early 1920s, Owen Emmons took over the Star Theater and moved it across the street to the first floor of the Masonic Hall, 110 S. Main Street, now Randazzo Jewelers.
Mr. Emmons sold the theater in the mid-1920s to Don and Emma Killam. Don ran the projector, Emma sold the popcorn and Evesia Bartles, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Delbert Bartles, would play the piano assisted by Margaret Bischak who turned the pages of the music.
On warm nights, Emma would move the popcorn machine outside, which sent the aroma of fresh buttered popcorn floating over the downtown area.
During the summer months, on Wednesday nights, the downtown businesses sponsored “free movie night.” As was done during World War I, the movie was shown on a framed sheet hung off the east wall of the Town Hall.
The first talking motion picture to be shown in Almont didn’t occur until 1929. It was a musical called “Broadway Melody” starring Warner Baxter and Mary Pickford.
Almont’s first true movie theater was constructed in 1946. Stanley J. Tesluck and his son, Ernest Tesluck from Yale, bought the Maccabee Building, which was located on the northeast corner of Stone Street and Main Street. They bought the building from Art Placeway Cleaners. They demolished that building and constructed the Almont Theater Building, which opened in 1946.
The Almont Theater Building was the first true motion picture building in Almont. It had a large screen, sloped floor for seating, and an entry lobby with the ticket booth and candy counter. Above the lobby were the offices and projection booth. When completed, the Almont Theater was the most modern theater in the county. It was a very busy place.
The Teslucks operated the theater from 1946 until 1955. In 1955, the Teslucks sold the theater to Pete Dubovenko of Yale. The Dubovenkos operated the theater until the early 1980s. Because of competition from more modern, multi-screen theaters, the Almont Theater was no longer a viable business.
In 1983, the building was sold to James Henderson and converted to Henderson’s Pharmacy. The building is currently vacant.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s Homecoming book, “Remembrances of Almont 2020”can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.